Millicent Fawcett: a hero of Gender Equality

This week has been the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the bill which finally gave women the vote on 6th February 1918. Even then, only women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification were able to vote, which enfranchised only 40 per cent of the total population of women in the UK. It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men. This act increased the number of women eligible to vote to 15 million.

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Millicent Fawcett

One of the heroes of the suffrage movement was Dame Millicent Fawcett. Fawcett was born in 1847, and developed an interest in women’s rights at a young age. Her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was the first female doctor in Britain. In 1866, at the age of 19, Millicent became the secretary of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. She dedicated her life to campaigning for equal rights for women. Fawcett was a suffragist, not a suffragette. She distanced herself from the militant and sometimes violent activities of the suffragettes, preferring instead to work within the law.

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Suffragettes Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Fawcett spoke at her first public pro-suffrage meeting in 1869, and took over as the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1890. She held this position until 1919, a year after the Representation of the People Act finally achieved the aims she had been campaigning for over the past 53 years.

When the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 was to be signed into law, the 81-year-old campaigner, now a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, wanted to witness the historic moment. She made her way to the House of Lords in plenty of time for the ceremony, which was due to start at 6.30pm on 3rd July. Unfortunately, the House of Lords had completed their other business more quickly than anticipated, and brought the signing ceremony forward to six o’clock. After 62 years of campaigning, Dame Millicent arrived less than a minute too late to see the law conferring equal voting rights to women given royal assent.

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Fawcett died the following August, in 1929, aged 82. She was born into an era where women were seen and not heard, where they had few rights, and where they were widely believed to be “the weaker sex.” Over her lifetime, the rights of women were transformed; by the time of her death women had the same voting rights as men. Little wonder, then, that Fawcett won the vote for “most influential woman” of the last 100 years run this week by BBC Radio 4, or that she has been chosen as the subject a commemorative statue to be erected in Parliament Square.

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Artist Gillian Wearing with a model of the Fawcett statue

It is fitting that Fawcett continues to break new ground for women, even today: hers is the first statue of a woman to be erected in Parliament Square. The plinth will feature the names of 59 women and men who fought for women’s suffrage; it will be unveiled in April. In the statue, Fawcett holds a placard with a line from a speech she gave after the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby: “courage calls to courage everywhere.”

Fawcett’s work remains incomplete, however: there are still significant gender inequalities at work in our society today. That is why Churchill Academy & Sixth Form has signed up to the Gender Equality Charter, with the aim of challenging and correcting gender imbalances wherever we find them. Click here to find out more.

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Millicent Fawcett in 1870

If you want to learn more about the campaign for women’s right to vote and its impact on women’s rights and equality to the present day, you can join me in signing up for a free five-week online course (MOOC) called Beyond the Ballot: Women’s Rights and Suffrage from 1866 to Today run by Royal Holloway and the UK Parliament.

Confidence

I remember the first lesson I ever taught. The thought of standing up in front of thirty children and expecting them to listen and do as they were told made my heart pound and a cold sweat prickle on my brow. I was full of nerves. But I walked into the classroom and I taught that lesson. It wasn’t brilliant – but I did it. And, having done one, the next one was easier – and better. Now, over twenty years into my career, I think nothing of standing up in in front of 270 students in assembly, or a hall full of parents on our Open Evenings, or even (as I did recently) in front of nearly 400 teachers in the conference centre at Old Trafford, Manchester!

This is how confidence in built. It’s not something that you either have or you don’t: it’s something you develop with practice. The first time you speak up in front of a group of people can be terrifying: what if I make a mistake? What if I get it wrong? What if they think I’m stupid? Those feelings never go away, but the next time they will be lessened, and the next time lessened further, until you think nothing of them at all. That’s when you start to come across as confident.

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At Churchill we aim to empower everyone at the Academy to develop knowledge, skills, character and confidence, as we believe these ingredients give young people (and adults!) the best chance of success later in life. We try to create opportunities for our young people to build confidence through practice. One example of this is our Year 8 public speaking competition. Every Year 8 student has the opportunity to give a speech in front of their class. The winners go through to the Year 8 finals, and the winners of that have a chance to compete in the regional Youth Speaks competition organised by the Rotary Club. Each time, the audience is bigger and less familiar, but the staging up allows the students to build their confidence each time.

The same was true at the fantastic Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition, held on Monday evening at St John’s Church in association with Churchill Music! Eight young musicians performed with such self-assurance, commitment and skill that the audience was gripped and enthralled by every one of them.

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The chair of the adjudication panel, violinist Ruth Rogers,  spoke afterwards about nerves, and about how even she gets nervous every time she performs. Her advice was to focus on another musician, rather than the audience, and to enjoy the performance. Our young musicians definitely benefitted from her advice: if they were nervous, they didn’t show it, and this enabled the audience to put their faith in the performers, to trust them, which allowed them to be carried away by the wonderful music making on display.

Over recent weeks I’ve been interviewing Year 11 students for places in our Sixth Form, and they have all presented themselves really well: good eye contact, a firm handshake, and clear, well articulated answers to my questions. Just like the musicians on Monday night, or the Year 8s the week before, they might have been nervous inside, but they came across as confident, self-assured young people. And it’s the impression you give which matters, not what’s happening inside. That impression of confidence gives people faith in you and your abilities, which in turn helps you to feel more confident in yourself.

So, even if you’re not feeling confident, pretend. Act as if you are. Because the next time, it’ll be easier, and the next time easier still, until, eventually, you’ll find that the confidence you were pretending to have has turned into the real thing. As five times Wimbledon champion and four time Olympic gold medallist Venus Williams said:

Believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do, and some day, you will.

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Creativity

Creativity – the ability to make something new – is one of the most important skills or qualities we can nurture in our school. It was one of the key words for us when we were thinking about our vision and values last year. We say “we maintain a supportive and inclusive culture that values and celebrates personal enrichment and creativity alongside academic achievement,” and when I walk around the Academy I can see this in evidence everywhere I go.

My office is full of students’ artwork. When I glance up from my emails, or conclude a meeting, or when I walk in from a cold, wet lunch duty, I’m often brought up short by the quality of what they have produced. And it isn’t just the technical skill of the art work that causes this effect: it’s the ideas, the thinking, and the imagination.

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You can see it at the entrance to the school too, in the projects that the students have designed which are on display in they foyer. And, yes, in the portrait of me produced by Katie Jackson!

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Walking further into the school, though, this spirit of making, imagining and creating runs through every corridor and classroom. Students are choreographing, planning, deciding, photographing, filming, writing, painting, sewing, sculpting, organising, designing, discovering, inventing, producing, building, performing and making all the time. From the upcycled chairs in the Sixth Form, through the delicious dishes in catering, to the solution to a problem in Mathematics, examples of creativity are everywhere.

Back in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson gave a famous TED talk entitled “Do schools kill creativity?” He talked about the risk that the current education system runs, the risk of squashing the creativity out of children through their experience of the curriculum. He quotes the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso:

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At Churchill, we work really hard to ensure that a student’s experience of school nurtures their creativity. We recognise that the process of learning is creative in itself, as it encourages learners to make new connections and engage, through the process of learning, in the art of creating themselves.

Twelve ways families can support revision

As we approach the exam period families will be wondering what the best methods are to help their children revise. Below are some tips which, based on research, are some of the best ways to help students to revise effectively.

Our mantra for revision is to recap and practise.

  1. Get them to self-test, a lot.

Research shows that testing in order to recall content is the best way of getting us to think hard. Thinking about and getting the answer is much better than re-reading notes. The more we recall information the better it sticks in our long term memory. This should be in the form of quizzing themselves where possible.

  1. Past Papers

Encourage them to redo any past exam questions without their notes. Simply trying to recall answers to mind is an effective revision technique. Afterwards,  use the mark scheme and help them to identify successes and areas for further work. Past papers and mark schemes can be found on any exam boards’ websites. Our exam board specifications for 2018 can be found on our website for Year 11 and Year 13.

  1. Talk to them

Get your child to tell you what they have learnt or are revising, then quiz them at random times: at breakfast, at the dinner table, or even in the car. Ask them questions that relate to their studies and get them to think hard about the answer. Their books should be a good source of quizzing information for you.

Get them to explain their answer. Adding reason to an answer helps them to remember. And only accept the right answer – no half marks.

  1. Read around the subject

Even if the content is not in the exam, understanding the subject area better helps to build links which may be valuable for those higher grade questions. Recommended documentaries, websites, exam board resources and places of interest to visit can also be beneficial.

  1. Space it out

Distribute their practice of different subjects or different areas of a subject. Research shows that spacing out practice aids memory. Cramming will help for a short period and may be useful the night before an exam but this is not the most effective for long-term memory. A revision time table can help with this.

  1. Learn keywords and definitions by heart

Learning the correct definitions in some subjects will help gain a few extra marks, so long as they use them correctly. Produce memory cards with the key word and the definition on to test them regularly.

  1. Use memory tricks

Mnemonics, such as “Richard of York gave battle in vain” to remember the colours of the rainbow, can be a good trick to remember sequences and lists of information. Get them to invent their own. Making them funny or rude can be a great hook for memory! They can be a good way of helping to store larger chunks of information. Write them on posters and stick them up around their room or the house.

  1. Go easy on the highlighters

Rereading and highlighting key points is not the best way to revise. If they are unsure on a subject this may help to learn a topic, but always get them to check with a teacher that they’ve understood properly what they’ve read.

  1. Sleeping, eating and hydration

Exercise can be beneficial for the mind and body and students should not ignore this. Exercise and revision can lead to tiredness and learning is hard work, so the brain and body need plenty of fuel.

  1. Build in breaks

Splitting up a study day in to small study and rest periods can be beneficial. Remove any distractions such as computers and other media sources, especially mobile phones. These can be a reward for studying hard. It is useful to have a positive learning environment – a dedicated space that is clear and equipped for revising so there is no procrastinating.

  1. Start now

The mock exams are a good indicator of where they are but with a balanced programme of study they can gain those few extra grades between now and the summer.

  1. Subject specific is best

The nature of revision varies from subject to subject. The subject content is the most important thing for them to learn. Their job is to remember what we taught them in class. The whole purpose of revision should be to help with that.

Good luck! 

revision tips

Assembly: Value

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Take a look at the two coins above. They look so different! One, minted in 1988, is tarnished and dull. It’s marked around the edges with the impacts of thousands of other coins in hundreds of pockets, tills, machines and moneyboxes. The 2010 coin is shiny and bright, and the Queen’s profile looks markedly different. Yet both coins have the same value – they are worth exactly the same. The age, condition, and the year they were made makes no difference to what they are worth.

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These two coins look similar to the pennies. One is old and tarnished, the other shiny and new. But they do not have the same value. Despite the fact that they have the words “one pound” written on the front, the coin on the left is worthless, no longer legal tender, and only the coin on the right is worth £1 now.

Looking at these coins causes me to reflect on how we assign value to things. It seems clear that things are only worth what we agree together they are worth. If we agree, as a society, that one object is worth £1 and another is worthless, then that is the value that these objects have.

In the case of the coins, the condition of the object has no bearing on its value. However, with some other objects this is not the case.

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In the case of the two guitars above, we have an unusual situation. The brand new guitar on the left is worth much less than the one on the right, despite the fact that the one on the right has been on fire, has a melted scratchplate, and had a broken neck which had to be replaced. That’s because the guitar on the right was set on fire and smashed up by Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival; it’s appalling condition is a testament to its place in the history of rock’n’roll.

This is not normally the case. As shown above, the value of the £120,000 Ferrari is not increased after it has been driven into a lamppost. In fact, more usually, we need to care for and look after the things we value so that they remain in good condition for us to enjoy.

Over the two years of my Headship to date, I have written three times to the Education and Skills Funding Agency to argue that the students of Churchill Academy and Sixth Form deserve a better learning environment. Twice the ESFA have agreed with the arguments we have presented – we are waiting to hear about the third! – and that is why we have the Alan Turing Building, complete with brand new IT facilities, and the new Science and Technology building under construction. That is why we are renovating and refurbishing classroom and improving the computer equipment across the site. These project all have a significant value – not just the financial resource required to put them in place, but the value they add to the learning experience for our students.

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We are lucky to learn and work in a beautiful, rural school site, with excellent and improving facilities. It is essential that we all work together to look after this place, ensuring that it is litter-free and kept in an excellent condition.

 

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Our values at Churchill determine all of our actions, and there have been many great examples of students demonstrating those values since we launched them in September. Maintaining those excellent habits will ensure that we all continue to contribute positively to the community we are building together.

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My portrait

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Artist Katie Jackson with my portrait and me, January 2018

In the summer term of 2017, Mr Downing approached me with the idea for an annual Academy portrait painting event. I thought it was a great idea – a long term project to celebrate the teaching staff at Churchill Academy. The aim is that each year students will be able to vote for a member of staff to have their portrait painted by one of our A level Art students, and we would build a gallery of portraits over time. So, would I mind being the first subject, to kick the competition off? I jumped at the chance! Year 13 student Katie Jackson was selected as the first artist and, after a brief photoshoot during Activities week, Katie went off and developed the painting, and brought it in to present to me just before Christmas.

It’s a strange thing, seeing yourself through the eyes of someone else. It’s not like a photograph, or a mirror – Katie has interpreted me and put that interpretation onto canvas. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome – I absolutely love it! I feel like she’s really “got me” and managed to communicate that through the image she’s made. It is a fantastic painting, an exciting beginning to this project.

I’d like to thank Katie for all the time and effort she put into the picture, which is truly remarkable. Katie is now studying Make Up for Media and Performance at Arts University Bournemouth and clearly has a bright future ahead of her! The portrait will be on display in reception this term before going into the gallery.

Who will be the next member of staff, and the next artist? Watch this space!

Christmas at Churchill 2017

The last week of term before Christmas is a magical time at Churchill. We keep our lessons going right up until the end, but on the final day we all get together to celebrate. The Sixth Form lead the way with their annual fancy dress parade, closely followed by the four Houses with their carol services, tutor events and mini-competitions. Enjoy the photos below, and I wish everyone in the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form community (and beyond) a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

 

 

Laying the foundations

On Tuesday of this week I was invited down to the construction site where work is progressing on our new Science and Technology building. It was an important day as the contractors were using a 39 metre boom to lay down 243 cubic metres of concrete in a single slab to form the base of the building. It was quite an operation: the concrete arrived in a series of mixer wagons (30 in all during the day); it was transferred into an on-site hopper, which pumped the concrete along the boom and out into the site. One operator used a remote control to move the boom around whilst his team directed the flow of concrete into the steel mesh framework. A second pump made sure no air bubbles were trapped, whilst behind them a final contractor used a beam screeder to ensure a completely flat surface. It was amazing to watch! Over the course of twelve hours, the complete base of the building was laid out in one piece. Pipework is left to connect up the plumbing, and there are bolts sticking up from the foundation piles where the steel frame for the walls will be anchored.

As I watched this work taking place, it occurred to me that, eventually, none of this will be visible. The building will rise up, completely covering it; the ground floor materials will be mounted on top of this concrete. And yet, although none of it will be visible, it is this solid foundation which will hold the whole thing together.

As a school, we aim to provide the solid foundations and the framework upon which young people can build their futures. It’s vital to get this right. Gaps or errors in the process would be like air bubbles left in the concrete: they could weaken the whole structure. That’s why we work so hard to ensure that all our students make the most of every day, every lesson that they can.

Eventually, all the work done in school will become invisible, covered by the progress and achievements of the young people themselves as they build their own futures. But it will always be there: a firm, smooth, solid base anchoring them securely and allowing them to rise up. What a privilege it is to be a part of that process.

 

Success

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After last week’s blog about failure, I wanted to write a companion piece about success. We all want to be successful. We all aim for success. But what does success mean to you?

At the end of each school year at Churchill, we have our annual Celebration of Success events. These evenings aim to celebrate those student who have been successful in many different ways. Of course, academic success is a huge part of that. As a school you wouldn’t expect anything different! But, as an institution, we believe that personal and academic accomplishments are equally valuable, and we try to celebrate success in all its forms.

For some of us, a string of A* grades (or 7, 8 or 9s!) is a mark of success. For others, achieving a grade 4 will be a huge achievement. For some, winning the 1500m on Sports Day will bring that sense of pride; for others, simply finishing the race is worth even more. For those students who successfully complete their Duke of Edinburgh award, the feeling of success is palpable; I’m looking forward to handing out this year’s awards later this term.

These are all major achievements, which we rightly mark up as successes. But it’s important also to celebrate the small triumphs which occur every day. We know that for some students simply getting into school and making it through the day is a success to be celebrated. Finally grasping that difficult concept in a lesson, or having the courage to have a go at a challenging task, or recognising a mistake and going back to fix it – all of these are important successes that matter hugely to all of us.

Blackboard with the chemical formula of dopamine

There are interesting things happening in our brain when we are successful, with two different “feel good” chemicals being released: dopamine and serotonin. We get little shots of a chemical called dopamine when we get things done; I like to think of it as the “achievement” chemical. It exists in our brains to make sure we achieve our goals. The trouble with dopamine is that it doesn’t really differentiate between big successes and small successes, so you’ll get a little shot of dopamine if you find that pen you were looking for, even if you don’t start your homework. Dopamine can be tricky – it will reward you for completing smaller, less challenging tasks as well as the big important things.

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Serotonin molecule

Serotonin is released when we get recognition from other people for something we’ve done – it feels really, really good. But the great thing about serotonin is that it’s released in other people too. When you get a little dopamine shot from ticking off something important on your list, you feel good. When you achieve something that your teacher, your parents, or your friends think is great, they feel good too. Back in caveman times, serotonin helped members of tribes work and stay together by encouraging them to invest in each other. That’s what’s so great about working in a school. When students do well, I feel proud of them – and I feel good. How brilliant is that?

That’s why recognising and celebrating success is so important. When effort leads to achievement, we feel good about ourselves. When other people tell us they’re proud of us, or celebrate that success with us, we feel even better about ourselves – and they feel great too. It’s a win-win. So cherish those moments, and celebrate every success, no matter how small – they all count.

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Failure

In 1919, a young man was fired from his job at a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas.” The young man’s name was Walt Disney. He went on to win 22 Academy Awards.

In 1998 an 11 year old boy was cut from his football team because a growth hormone deficiency made him shorter than other kids his age. The boy’s name was Lionel Messi. He went on to be named FIFA’s World Player of the Year four times.

On 1st January 1962 a band auditioned for Decca Records in West Hampstead, London. Decca rejected the band, saying “guitar bands are on the way out” and the group had “no future in show business.” The band was The Beatles. They went on to have 15 number one albums, sell 21.9 million singles in the UK, and change the face of music forever.

In 1985, aged 30, a successful businessman was fired from the company he had founded. “I was out — and very publicly out,” he recalled. “What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.” He added, “I was a very public failure.” The man’s name was Steve Jobs. He went on to co-found Pixar Animation Studios, where he co-produced the first ever full-length computer animated film: Toy Story. He was lated re-hired by Apple, the company he had founded, and he went on to develop and launch the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Apple today is worth $900 billion. 

It would be easy to think about Walt Disney, Lionel Messi, The Beatles, or Steve Jobs and only to think of the successes. But those successes were only possible because of the unseen failures that preceded them.

Coping with failure

Failure is a big issue for all of us. None of us sets out on a task wanting to fail. It isn’t something desirable or positive. And, when it happens, it feels awful. But the hard fact is that some degree of failure is inevitable. We can’t be successful all the time and sometimes even the best laid plans come unravelled. For us at Churchill, our aim is to build understanding and acceptance that setbacks, mistakes and failures are part of the learning process, and to help our students react well when things don’t go the way we want them to.

We don’t seek failure out – that would be horrible! But equally we shouldn’t protect students from experiencing setbacks. The most important part of the process is showing them how to learn from the experience and improve as a result. When we are learning something new, it’s unreasonable to expect perfection first time – it’s going to take time and effort. We are constantly failing every day, but learning all the time, improving with each mistake, and getting closer and closer to our destination.

Question 1: Why did you fail?

Understanding the causes of failure help us to learn from it. Sometimes the answers to this question will be easy: I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t prepare thoroughly enough. I didn’t fully understand what it was that I needed to do. In cases like this, the solutions will also be straightforward: work harder. Prepare. Go back and revise.

Sometimes, the answers will be less easy to find. Sometimes something completely unexpected will happen that makes it impossible to succeed. In these situations we we can also ask ourselves whether there was anything we could have done to forsee what went wrong, or whether there was anything we could have prepared for. If the answer is “no” then we can chalk those up to experience, but if the answer is “yes” then we can learn from it.

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Sometimes, you will know what went wrong, but you won’t know what to do about it. This is where teachers, mentors, tutors, family and friends really come into their own. Asking for help when you don’t know what to do next can feel like an admission of weakness, but it is actually a strength. Getting help from those who know more than you do, or who can do it better than you, will help you to get better too. And offering help to those that need it is part of our mission as an Academy – to “encourage others to succeed.”

Question 2: how do you feel?

Let’s not pretend that the feeling of failure is a pleasant one. It isn’t. It can be embarrassing, even humiliating to get something wrong in front of other people. It can be upsetting. If you’ve invested a lot of time, energy, hope and aspiration into a project, failure can be devastating.

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But failure is not fatal, and it is not permanent.

Acknowledging this simple truth is essential for us to learn and grow. It helps all of us to remind ourselves that the disappointment we feel when things go wrong is something that hurts now, but over time it will help us to be stronger and more resilient. It won’t hurt forever – and it could make us better.

Question 3: what have you learned?

Having experienced the horrible feeling of failure, we are faced with a choice. Part of us will certainly want to avoid that feeling in future by not trying – by avoiding the situation where we might fail again. If we do that, however, we risk the failure permanently affecting our confidence and limiting our ability to succeed in future.

Failure and learning

It takes courage and determination to pick ourselves back up and to have another go – but that is the only way to turn failure into learning. Work out where we went wrong, fix it, get help if we need it, and try again.

My failure

One failure that I will never forget comes from my time as the Head of an English Department. I was asked by a colleague to tell off a boy who had been disrespectful in her lesson. I checked the boy’s details on the computer, then went to find him at break time. When I saw him, I launched straight in to my best teacher telling-off, full of disappointment and indignation that this young man had dared to behave so poorly. After about two minutes, I paused for breath. “I think you might want my brother, sir,” said the young man – who had an identical twin.

Why did I fail? Because I didn’t check.

How did I feel? Very stupid.

What did I learn? Always – ALWAYS – check you’ve got the right person before you tell them off.

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We can’t get everything right all the time. But every time we get it wrong we learn more, and improve. Every failure, mistake, and setback is making us stronger, making us smarter. So be brave, keep going, and next time do it a little bit better.